The Falcons got a much needed win last week against lowly Tampa Bay. This week, they'll have a tougher opponent, albeit one they definitely have a chance against.
That opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons next two games are against Arizona and Carolina. Win those two games and 2-4 becomes 4-4, and the Falcons are back at 500 heading into an NFC Divisional Round Rematch against Seattle the week after the Carolina game.
Needless to say, these next two games are must win games for the Falcons to have any shot of getting a wild card birth (the Saints have the division with some room to breathe right now).
The Falcons also get a chance to either tie or move ahead of Arizona and Carolina in the playoff race, two teams which at the moment, are ahead of them.
Here are some keys to tomorrow's game against Arizona.
We mentioned earlier this week about how the Falcons will have to face John Abraham on Sunday. The Falcons all time sack leader will be looking to get revenge on the team that cut him in the middle of a three year deal in the offseason.
Abraham will be going up against the struggling Falcons offensive line that has gotten better without Lamar Holmes getting as much playing time as he was in the beginning of the season with the emergence of veteran Jeremy Trueblood. Sam Baker should be ready to go tomorrow, meaning that Holmes may not even play. This will make things harder on Abraham. But the veteran sack master always has one or two impact plays a game. Matt Ryan will need to be getting the ball out of there as fast as he can tomorrow, because Abraham will be breathing down his neck.
CARDINALS STRUGGLE TO COVER TIGHT ENDS
The Falcons have the best tight end of all time on their team in Tony Gonzalez, and while he was limited last week due to constant double coverage, he may have a chance this weekend to break out as he did in the Jets game.
The Cardinals have been terrible guarding tight ends this season, making the Falcons in the playoffs last year look like a vintage Ed Reed led secondary.
The Rams Jared Cook, the 49ers' Vernon Davis and the Saints' Jimmy Graham all have had 100 yards receiving against the Cardinals secondary.
The Cardinals have only given up 100 yards receiving to a wide receiver once, and that was against Detroit's Calvin Johnson.
The Cardinals have done a much better job containing receivers than they have tight ends, so it'll be important for the Falcons to look to Gonzalez early and often to expose this weakness.
LARRY FITZGERALD'S HEALTH
Larry Fitzgerald has been bothered by a nagging hamstring issue over the last couple of weeks, but has had some extra rest (the Cardinals played last Thursday on Thursday Night Football) to nurse said injury.
The Falcons secondary is their biggest weakness on defense so far, and receivers on nearly every team the Falcons have faced have had huge days against this secondary. This includes Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson who last week had 10 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. If Vincent Jackson can do that, then it's scary to think what a healthy Larry Fitzgerald can do against this struggling secondary.
Fitzgerald is listed as probable on the injury report, meaning that more than likely he'll play tomorrow. If he's nagged by the hamstring, the Falcons secondary could slow him down. If not, it could be a long day for this maligned secondary.
RETURN OF STEVEN JACKSON
The Falcons are getting a huge boost by having their dual threat running back return to the lineup that will open up another option in the Falcons' thin receiving corps. The Falcons are currently 30th in the league in rushing yards per game. Jackson looks healthy and ready to attack a Cardinals defense that ranks seventh in the league in rush defense.
Even if Jackson isn't effective running the ball this week, the Cardinals will at least have to respect the run because of Jackson's presence in the line up. Look for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to fall back in love with the screen pass with Jackson back in the line up as it was working pretty well before Jackson was injured during week 2.
Jackson's return will give a boost to this team, and open up the offense to be more explosive. This will add an extra dimension to the passing game and the running game that has been sorely missed without him.
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